Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Our orchestra began its fall schedule Monday. There were three cellos and a bass (!), along with a viola and a handful of violins. The orchestra has been invited to play with the Anchorage Youth Symphony early next year, but only for kids. This opportunity has attracted several new players who are quite talented - many sit in with the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. This will require some organizational adjustments to keep everyone involved and motivated. I'm just happy to be able to play, whenever.
We did a quick run-through of some of our music list. It includes several repeats from last year, but also quite a few new pieces - one that we sight-read on Monday had some fourth-position shifts. I'm ready, I think...
Today, I played the Gossec Gavotte through much faster than I'd ever done before. I missed more than a few notes, but kept on going just to see if I could do it. In the end, it wasn't that bad, but I will slow down that metronome again for a while. I've been watching my left thumb - trying to keep it with my second finger as I shift and extend. I've also been monitoring my right shoulder and elbow as I bow. I think my shifts are more accurate...
Each day it comes a little easier.
I too got my intro to classical on cartoons. Not a good thing for me, though, because for a very long time I associated that music with silliness.
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Sunday, August 26, 2007
This morning we found Floyd the guinea pig dead in his cage. He was barely a year old. Yesterday he was fine, full of energy and demanding his usual ration of carrots and lettuce. We don't know what happened to him.
I'm going to miss his occasional accompaniments when I practice my cello each morning. His favorite piece was The Two Grenadiers.
They say that a cousin to the guinea pig that lives in the Amazon rain-forests plays a vital role in the propagation of the Brazil nut tree. I guess they collect and bury food caches of Brazil nuts, and some manage to germinate and grow into trees. We buried Floyd this afternoon along with a Brazil nut.
Guinea pigs can live up to 6 years. That's why I was so surprised to lose Floyd after just a year.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2007
The right elbow is an important pivot. Don't use the shoulder and upper arm to move the bow. Hold them still and use the forearm/elbow to move the bow. Keep the wrist straight with the forearm. This technique will allow me to play these passages faster and more accurately. Now that I more or less know the scale runs in the Lully Gavotte and the Boccherini Minuet, I'm ready to start playing them faster. The next piece in Suzuki 3 that I'll be learning is a Scherzo by C. Webster, mostly 16th note pairs, played Presto. Controlling my bow arm this way is an important tool for mastering these.
My staccatos need a lot of attention. Start and stop each note with intent. Bite into the string and then stop without lifting the bow.
We went through these two pieces in great detail. After a few missteps, I was able to play through the Gavotte fairly well. We did mark several passages that need specialized attention.
Then we turned to the Minuet. I had several questions about how to finger certain passages, and we played each note in them, one-by-one. Finally we played Suzuki's Moon Over The Ruined Castle both in 3rd and 4th position.
Other general notes:
- Especially in 4th position, curl the fingers and use the fingertips; keep the unused fingers close to the strings.
- Consider which finger is making each shift - both up and down; let the thumb do the reposition, but keep it loose on the neck.
- Follow dynamics even when learning the piece pizzicato; better to imprint the dynamics from the start than try to add them later.
- Pay attention to, and plan the bow actions.
- Learn to prepare for each change a few notes ahead of time, so that by the time that change comes it can be done without having to fumble into it at the last moment.
Mods to my practice routine:
- Watch the bowing elbow, always.
- Watch the right thumb - keep it behind the second finger.
- Practice trills, making sure the thumb is loose behind the fingerboard.
- Practice scales using 16th pairs; increasing tempos.
- Practice scales using staccato; singles, then hooked, etc.
I feel so indolent in this lessonless part of the year.
I think I will add different bow strokes to my scales..especially hooked bowing.
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Saturday, August 18, 2007
Last night we went to an outdoor concert at the Kenai Peninsula Fair by BeauSoleil. Michael and David Doucet formed this group in 1975 and soon their unique blend of cajun zydeco, tex-mex, country, blues, and a little calypso music burst onto the national stage. The sound comes from Southern Louisiana (they are from Lafayette) where the cajun zydeco style grew up in the small bars and dance halls in the backwater bayous. The combination of fiddle and accordion along with guitar, bass, drums, and washboard, and of course Micheal's vocals, make their sound so unique.
Maybe it's because I spent 15 years as a child in south Louisiana, although we lived in suburbia and seldom ventured into cajun country, but I became an instant fan with the release of their first album in 1977. I'd not heard much about them for the last few years, although every once in a while one of their CDs would shuffle up on my player and I'd stop whatever I was doing for a while to reminisce.
Their appeal must be particular to my age group, because the average age of the 200 or so who attended last night's concert was probably above 50. Two thirds of the men wore their long gray hair in pony tails. More than half the women also wore their hair long and gray. There was a smattering of younger listeners and lots of kids, but it was mostly us old folks who were caught up by their fast driving cajun rhythms. I'd forgotten how intense these guys are. After playing two hours without rest, Micheal Doucet's fiddle should have been smoking. How does he maintain that pace? At first a handful of couples got up to dance in the grass in front of the stage; by the end of the show almost everyone was on their feet, dancing or swaying. Whew.
I suppose I've seen most of these concert-goers over the years - singly or in pairs, but this was the first time being amongst so many hippies still living some version of "the life". This concert brought back together an interesting divergence in lifestyles - for every VW bus in the parking lot, there was also a hybrid. At the end some of us went back to their alternative lifestyles off the grid; the rest of us returned to our undercover lives out in the real world. Until BeauSoleil comes back again.
Concerning the Google Pack I downloaded the other day... I got frustrated with the indexing process of the Desktop search function and removed it. It was dragging down the system and locked up the browser every time I tried to open any of the processes to adjust settings, etc. I think I'll try again later, maybe after Google does some additional debugging. But I've retained the StarOffice package and the virus scanner.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
A few things
Today, I downloaded Google Pack, another free Beta project from Google. This bundles a lot of Google's features, such as Picasa, Google Earth, Google Desktop, Google Chat, etc., with PC Doctor, Adobe, Real Player, even Skype. What makes it even more interesting is the inclusion of Norton Security Scan (it's not as complete as the $39 per year commercial version, but it's free). I'd let my Norton subscription expire a long time ago.
But, the most surprising thing in this free Pack from Google is the Sun Microsystem's "StarOffice" program set. Sun has been selling this program for $70, but it's free from Google. This program includes a word processor (StarOffice Writer), a spreadsheet (StarOffice Calc), a database program (StarOffice Base), a drawing program (Star Office Draw), and a presentation program (StarOffice Impress). These programs closely mirror the Word, Excel, PowerPoint programs from Microsoft. In fact, it's not easy to see any difference in appearance and functions.
I used to be power user of Microsoft's Office programs (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), even writing my own macros, etc. In recent years, however, I've just become a casual user, although I do use them in my consulting work. I have not upgraded to Windows Vista, and I don't intend to until it becomes necessary due to evolving software constraints. That means I'll not be upgrading to the MSOffice 2007 system either. But, since most (if not all) of our clients use MSOffice, I doubt I'll get that much of a chance to work with this StarOffice suite for a while at least. We'll see.
It's interesting that Google is putting out a competing product with Google Documents, formerly Writely (which is what I've used for blogging for almost a year). Still, Google Docs is strictly an on-line program you can access from any location, while StarOffice Writer is a stand-alone program that can be used offline. Google sure has a lot of irons in the fire...
Here's hoping that this Google/Sun shot across the bows of HMS Microsoft will be successful and lead to many more Google projects.
[Disclaimer: I own some Sun Microsystems stock. I bought it at around $40 in late 1999. It fell to $5 in the tech stock crash and has stayed there ever since. Maybe Sun's teaming up with Google will do something for Sun's bottom line.]
My real intrigue with Google is their bid for the wireless 700 MHz auction. They are going up against AT&T. The FCC adopted Google’s proposal to make the 700 MHz technology platform open – meaning that whoever eventually owns it cannot have a proprietary network. Don’t you really feel bad for the AT&T, Verizon, and the other carriers that are crying foul?
I am glad to see my stock purchases are being used for some good.
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Tuesday, August 14, 2007
15 trips around the sun
Still, in just four years our home was going to become an "empty nest". We weren't necessarily looking forward to that, but that's the way we assumed it was supposed to go. We had both just been accepted into our local fire department's volunteer firefighter training program - we saw this as an opportunity to stay healthy, active, and involved.
Then in early December, Y told me, rather hesitantly, that she thought she might be pregnant.
Conventional wisdom says I was supposed to get upset, angry, rage against the idea, etc. - at least that's how Hollywood usually portrays it. Obviously, the last thing I expected at that point in my life was to be raising another child.
But... I was elated! I could not believe our fortune. Without a moment's hesitation I was coming up with possible names, wondering about the actual birth-date, etc.
I can't claim to have been a great father to A and B; after all, my parenting skills were learned from watching my twisted mother and my emotionally distant father. I had more or less come to terms with my parents' effect on me in my early 20s. I knew what demons lurked inside me and did my best to guard against them so I wouldn't pass any of that on to yet another generation. Still, once in a while (thankfully only rarely) that 'dark side' would start to come over me and begin to affect my attitude towards my kids. As often as it appeared, I fought against it and pushed it away. Still, something in my psyche prevented me from getting close to my kids and being an actively loving father. In all, I wasn't a bad father to them, just more distant than I wanted to be and I hadn't been able to get past that.
With age comes maturity. With maturity comes a realistic self awareness. I knew I wasn't the best parent, but I also believed I now had a chance to fix that and do it better.
Immediately, I bonded with Z in the womb. I studied the sonograms and diagrams and I could locate his head, elbows, knees, and feet simply by massaging Y's stomach. I communicated this way (by massage) a lot. As soon as he started squirming around, I felt him responding to my presence. As he came nearer to term, if I gently pressed on Y's stomach, Z would push back with a knee or elbow... as if we were holding hands...
Within minutes of delivery I held him in my arms, and he opened his eyes and smiled at me. He was saying hi!
Becoming the father of a newborn at 41 was a chance to do it all over again. A chance to do it right. To be close. To love my child intensely and actively. To take an active role in parenting. And I think I have done so.
Naturally Z's arrival was not the same for A and B. They were embarrassed to have a baby brother attending their school functions. They were also somewhat jealous that he was getting so much attention from us and from everybody else. They felt left out. Yet in many ways, my newly unleashed parenting "skill" spilled over into my relationships with them as well. I couldn't fix the past 15 years of benevolent distance, but I sure could try to be better. I hoped it wasn't too late to start showing them the same sort of love and affection that I'd always felt but couldn't express. I like to think that I was able to improve things with them. It wasn't easy. It was probably quite a bit harder for them, I'd guess, because they didn't know how to deal with my new-found openness and attention.
But I was able to do it right with Z, from the start. It may have helped a lot that he was a happy fun-loving kid, open to everything that life would offer. I cherished every moment with him. We had both dropped out of that firefighter program, and I found myself jealously limiting how much my work interfered with my time with my son. Business travel became a burden. I never failed to call home at bedtime just to reread him one of his storybooks over the phone (from memory). It wasn't long before I started sending others on those business trips that I used to take so eagerly myself.
I remember every stage of his growth and development. I loved watching him grow physically and mentally as he eagerly explored the world around him. I was so much more relaxed this time... I'd experienced all the normal parental anxieties twice already, and I knew that each stage of development would come in its own time and that my getting worked up about it was not going to help. Instead, I fully appreciated each of the struggles and challenges he had to undergo - learning to sit up, to crawl, to stand (that was so cool!), to walk, to talk, to ride a bike, and so on. I celebrated with him, each achievement.
But I was also careful to fully embrace the times before each of these changes, because they were so brief and would never come back. Each stage of growth was another stage of independence and, because we'd so recently experienced it with A and B, another sign that our time together would come to an end all-too-soon.
Time has gone by so rapidly. I still see his innocent happy smile every time I look at him. We enjoy a good, comfortable, strong relationship. I trust him. I respect him. I ache for him. I worry about him. I am so proud of him. I want only the best for him. I love him unconditionally.
In some cultures the 15th birthday of a son or daughter is a "coming of age" and is celebrated in a grand way, attended by the extended family - some traveling great distances - friends, parents of friends, friends of parents, coworkers, neighbors, etc. The celebrant is feted with lavish gifts, a catered feast, live music, dancing, and toasts. These parties rival the more elaborate wedding receptions we celebrate in our culture.
We celebrated the completion of Z's 15th journey around the sun today by eating "lunch" together at Coldstone Creamery, by going to see "Stardust" together, by having his favorite dinner together, and then by spending the evening together. Not as flashy as others may do it, but it was just fine for us.
Incidentally, Y and I also celebrated our 36th anniversary today. We still consider Z's arrival 15 years ago to be our best anniversary present ever.
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Sunday, August 12, 2007
Each morning I have to rally myself to get off my ... and take the cello out of its case, setup the music stand and lay out all the accessories (see for example Cellodonna's list of some of the things cellists take with them). I'm envious of my fellow cellobloggers who are able to keep their cellos on stands - it sure would make this whole process a lot easier (I lack both the space and appropriate humidity). I'd sure be more inclined to pick mine up for a half hour's noodling between regular practice sessions if it were just sitting out.
Anyway, once that's done and I tune it up (those new Jargars are really stable, I seldom have to make any adjustments), I warm-up for several minutes bowing open strings - with full bows, concentrating on proper bow holds and pressures. Then I play the basic major scales: C, D, F, and G through two octaves - first slowly for intonation, then gradually picking up speed, playing various rhythms and bowings. Then I play Bb and Eb scales on two strings into third position. Finally, I go back and play the F and C scales on two strings into fourth position. After this I spend a few minutes practicing shifting up and down from 1st through 4th positions. Next I play some intervals on the string pairs - first as individual notes back and forth across the strings, then double-stopped. All the time, I'm now watching my left thumb to make sure it follows the second finger, and that I'm using the side of my thumb.
This usually takes at least half an hour. Because the next piece up in my lesson will consist of pairs of 16th notes, I've gone back to Suzuki Book 1 to play the etude variations using the 16th pairs. Then I randomly pick one or two pieces from Book 2 and try to play them cleanly, aiming for a good sound. If needed, I stop and work on any trouble spots. Then I move on to a more focused effort with the last four pieces in Book 2, which are not yet smooth. I'm still a long way from playing Gossec's Gavotte cleanly or anywhere near tempo, but the others are getting much better. Somewhere along here I take a brief break to stretch and walk around for five or ten minutes.
Then I plunge into the first three pieces in Suzuki 3. At my last lesson, my teacher suggested a revised fingering for the first shift in Schubert's Berceuse that made a big difference, and all of a sudden it all came together cleanly and it's sounding pretty good now. Progress on the Lully Gavotte is slow and steady. Finally I've started working on fingering the first half of the Boccherini Minuet, playing pizzicato slowly, concentrating on accurate rhythms. Since there are several unusual fingerings using forward extensions and double-barring, I so some work on these separately. This is progressing faster than I'd expected.
This usually takes up to two and a half hours each day. Whew. Still, sometimes I have to make myself stop and put it away.
Cellocracy will have to audition for a slot in the Evening of Classics concert in October. The program coordinator will meet with us at the end of the month, when our orchestra resumes for the fall season, to hear us play. We'll play through the four trios that we recently played at the Library Concert. Frankly, I'm not sure we're ready yet. But now I'll have to fit these pieces back into my practice routines...
Friday, the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra put on a remarkable concert to celebrate its Summer Music Festival. Paul Rosenthal played Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D - so fine! Sometimes it seemed as if he were playing two violins at once. How sweet! This was the Orchestra's 25th anniversary, and they went all out to present a good show, even inviting several former members who'd moved away to come back for this. They had nine cellos for this concert, normally they only have four. Its founding conductor, Bob Richardson, presented two of his own compositions, Along the River, and Song of the Lonely Man, with ethnic flautist, Gary Stroutsos. The program concluded with excerpts from Holst's Planets (Mars, Venus, and Jupiter). My teacher, as principal cellist, played several solo parts in these latter pieces. Z's teacher also soloed several of the brass parts. Although the program lasted three and a half hours, it was so good, I was tempted to drive down to Homer on Saturday for their second performance.
Alas, that didn't work out. We camped out on our land instead, taking advantage of this continued run of fantastic warm sunny days.
I too found that I need these warmups to loosen up my muscles and joints (not only in my hands and fingers - but also my shoulders, back and neck.)
I used to play a few arpeggios in my warmups, but then they sort of fell off my list some time ago. However, when I started Suzuki Book 3, I began working on its arpeggio exercises with fingering variations, and I've been considering going back through all the arpeggio exercises in the first two books.
Is this blog your practice log, then? Do you keep any other records on a regular basis?
I do keep track of what "issues" I'm needing to work on and try to make sure I come back to them each day until I'm satisfied. It's actually more thought out and organized than it sounds - I work with a lot of sticky notes on the margins of the scores, including mini-checklists for things such as troublesome rhythm sequences, and increased tempos, etc.
So, this blog does contain all that I actually write down about my lessons, my practice, and my progress. That's why I periodically describe my daily routines in such detail.
Aren't sticky notes great? I couldn't practice without them.
The quieter bit in the middle of Jupiter is what I performed as a cello duet back in May. It's a lovely duet. I can see if I can scan it for you if you like, our orchestra tutor arranged it for us.
I also recommend arpeggios and octaves because these patterns show up all the time in scores.
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Thursday, August 09, 2007
Morning on the Deck
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Ring of Fire
Across Cook Inlet from the Kenai Peninsula, six volcanoes stand in a line running north to south. Spurr, Redoubt, and Iliamna are visible on the western horizon towering above their lower neighbors that make up the rest of the Alaska Range. Augustine and sometimes Douglas can be seen from the southern coastline of the peninsula.
The Kenai Peninsula sits on the northern edge of the Pacific Plate, which is crashing into the North American Plate, and being forced underneath it; a process called subduction. The leading edge of our plate melts in the heat of the magma and pressure builds up. This pressure is relieved through all of these volcanoes.
This area is also criss-crossed with fault lines whose minor shakes remind us of how brief our stay here on earth is compared to the vast amount of shaking it has taken to lift up all these mountains and then erode them back down again.
There are a bunch more volcanoes extending south and west down the Aleutian Island chain. Most of these remain active, with periodic eruptions. Augustine, Iliamna, Redoubt and Spurr have all erupted in the past 30 years, with the Augustine and Redoubt eruptions providing the most drama and ash for us.
Augustine is perhaps the most active; with minor eruptions a year or so ago. This one is scary, since it is an island out in Cook Inlet. The northeast wall of the volcano is supposedly unstable. A major blow could cause that wall to come crashing down into the Inlet creating a tidal wave that would travel all the way up Kachemak Bay and up Cook Inlet. Most of our low-lying communities would be wiped out in an instant.
But when they're quiet, they're spectacular!
So, here is what I see on the western horizon, across Cook Inlet (on clear days.)
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
Sparkling Kachemak Bay
This afternoon's drive along the coast of Cook Inlet to Homer for Lesson #34 was spectacular. Our short but intense growing season has painted most of the lower mountains across the Inlet a bright green, enhanced by the sparkling blue of the skies. The three volcanoes stand tall, with their dazzling white snowcaps, above it all. Reflecting the sky, the silty waters in Cook Inlet are milky blue, with small whitecaps from the residual winds.
Coming over that final hill before descending into Kachemak bay, I knew it was another day photographers dream about - my camera, naturally, was at home. No clouds, no haze, just water, mountains, and sky. The sun in the southern half of the sky reflecting back off every small ripple and wave. The bay curves eastward past Homer then loops around to the south along the edges of the glaciated Kenai Mountain range. It opens to the west into Cook Inlet.
Homer sits just beneath the bluff on the north side of the bay, with the premium locations higher up the side of the hill. What a scenic place! I don't know why I haven't moved there.
Cellocracy's debut at last Tuesday's library concert has earned us an invitation to play in October's Evening of Classics concert, an annual fundraiser for the Kenai Peninsula Orchestra. I think our strings orchestra will also play a few pieces. I spent some time at the beginning of my lesson talking with my teacher about various cello trios and quartets (there might even be four of us) that we could play. We're all relative beginners - our youngest member is quite a bit more advanced than the rest of us. The challenge is to find a piece that sounds good, but doesn't stray too far into the upper registers or involve too many 16th notes, or worse, 32nd notes. While I enjoy learning a new piece - I know it takes me several months just to be able to work out the tricky parts, much less to start increasing tempos. I just don't want to stress myself by taking on more than I'm ready or able to do.
So, does anyone have any suggestions?
We played through the Book 3 pieces and exercises that I've been working on. My teacher was quite complimentary about my progress. Much of our discussions centered on appropriate hand "shapes" and thumb locations as I shift back and forth and do extensions. We tested out hand shapes with the thumb pad directly against the neck compared to the side of the thumb against the neck - her point was to show me that the latter position gave my fingers more dexterity. It's going to take a while to unlearn the old way and relearn the new. She wants me to slide my thumb, keeping it opposite my second finger, whenever I do forward extensions (up to D# on the a-string, for example). Even though I can actually stretch my little finger out far enough to reach that point without moving my thumb, she still wants me to move the thumb. OK. Also some discussion about keeping the left elbow out more, especially on the lower strings.
Then we started talking through the Minuet by L. Boccherini! I will begin playing the first half, pizzicato. This piece involves doing lots of forward extensions and then doing some string crossings while extended... so I'm going to treat these passages as independent drills and practice them extensively :) But that's not all... She wants me to start listening to the next piece in the book, #4, Scherzo by C. Webster. This is a relatively simple tune done in pairs of sixteenth notes - much like some of the Etude variations in Book 1 - which, by the way, I had worked on diligently for quite some time (not recently, though); but today, my combination elbow/wrist flick just wouldn't work right. So back to those etude variations...
Good post – I somewhat envy your location – but not the mosquitos.
Ditto on the thumb. My teacher's typical comment when I miss a shift is "look where your thumb is!" Periodically I focus on "leading with the thumb," thinking of my thumb finding the new place first. Makes a difference - when I remember!
Re: cello ensembles, an easy place to start might be with the Suzuki ensemble arrangements for books 2 and 3. There are a variety of sizes (duet, trio, quartet) depending on the piece, and you and your audience will be familiar with the pieces.
There are also a couple books of Canons and Rounds which work well at early levels, and are fun to just play and warm up with. I am most familiar with Starr, but also have Bergonzi.
These are also nice because you can buy the other string books and do the same pieces with a mixed ensemble.
Yes, same experience with thumb here too, and leading with the thumb, as GTGP mentioned.
Some ensemble books: Twenty Trios for Young Cellists (This has a lot of Christmas songs, so you might keep it in mind for the holiday season too);
Folk Strings for cello ensemble (some are easier than others);
Early Chamber Music for 2 and 3 Violoncellos (this is both early music and easy music);
Strictly Classics (O'Reilly), books 1 and 2. These are duets, but you could double parts.
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Saturday, August 04, 2007
Summer Music Festival
Months often pass without any opportunity to experience this kind of live music locally, then for just two weeks we're immersed in music. Sadly, few people around here take advantage; Friday's concert attendance being a case in point. Still, I guess I should be glad there's at least enough local interest to keep the KPO in business.
Anyway, lots of motivation for me...
My new Jargars are so smoooooth and mellow. It only took a day or two to get used to the differences. I have to use quite a bit more force on the C-string, for example, but I do like the results. It took a while to restart my routines after the week-long break to focus on our library concert, but now I'm moving forward again. After warming up each day, I start with one of the older pieces and work only on its trouble-sections... beginning with the trickiest note-pair (usually a shift or extension) and expanding to the entire phrase. After fifteen minutes or so, I move on to the current lesson pieces.
I'm still playing everything slow, slow, slow - trying to make sure that rhythms, intonation and dynamics are all sorted out before picking up speed. It's tough, though, to listen to those dang Suzuki CDs and hear everything played at such a rapid tempo - those d-minor scale runs in the middle of the Lully Gavotte for example.
I've started listening to the Boccherini Minuet (#3 in Suzuki 3), and have been working on its rhythms, without my cello.